I have to admit I’m getting a bit tired of this project and finding it harder and harder to come up with the goods. Feeling a little desperate, I went out for my usual walk today not expecting to see anything other than the kinds of thing I’ve done so many times before But then I spotted this tree shadow, projected onto a wooden fence and I knew this was the one. I love the way that the wood grain shows through the projected shadow, the whole thing combining both the outside and the inside of the tree at once.
Incidentally, I spent some time the other day putting together a gallery of all the tree pictures to date. You can find it here if you want to see them all in one place..
I’ve just upgraded to Photoshop Elements 14, and at the same time have installed a suite of plug-ins called Nik Efex. I’ve wanted these for quite a while, but till fairly recently you had to buy the whole suite of seven plug-ins even if you only wanted one of them, and the price wasn’t low. However, Google are now offering the whole Nik Efex suite completely free, so I jumped at the chance to get it.
Some of the plug-ins cover specific things like sharpening or HDR, but the two that interest me most are Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro – the first does black and white conversions, and the second enables you to play with various different effects on your colour images. The choice is quite bewildering – almost off-putting – but there are loads that I’d be unlikely to use and you can narrow down the choices and place the ones you like in a Favorites folder so that you don’t have to trawl through the entire list every time to find the ones you want.
Around the same time that I downloaded these, I subscribed to KelbyOne, Scott Kelby’s training site for photography and software. There was a series of lessons on how to use Nik Efex that proved worth the subscription money all by itself and helped me a lot in learning how best to use the plug-ins. What I discovered is that you can remove the effect from parts of the images, intensify or reduce the effect, stack several different effects together, and generally fully customise how they’re applied.
Something in me objects to the idea of simply clicking on a thumbnail and having a ready-made effect applied – it feels like cheating, somehow, and too ‘Instagram’ in style – so gaining back this kind of control makes me feel that the final result is of my own making rather than something someone else has come up with. I can see there’s huge potential here to achieve the kind of results I’ve always wanted, but I can also see it’s going to take some time to familiarise myself with the software.
The image above is one of my New Forest, intentional camera movement shots, and I’ve applied two effects to it. One is Neutral Color Balance, which shifted the colour balance in a slightly brighter, fresher, direction, and the other is Color Contrast, which helped intensify and bring out the individual colours, particularly the pink in the foreground. Although I liked this overall, I took the effect off the more dominant tree trunks to bring the contrast down a bit there. The change is quite subtle, but definite – underneath I’ve shown the before (top) and after (bottom). You can see how the software has ‘cleaned up’ the colours quite nicely, giving the image a fresher and more summery look.
You can make much more dramatic conversions than this, and I’m playing with that at the moment, but there’s a danger of it becoming clumsy and too over-the-top, so I’m taking it slowly. It’s nothing that couldn’t be done in Photoshop, of course, but first off you’d have to know how to achieve what you want – which I often don’t – and even if you do this is a much easier way of achieving it.
I’m struggling with the tree project at the moment, hence the lack of a post last week. I feel as if I’m stuck, and not coming up with anything new and I’m not sure how I’m going to break free from that. I’ve got lots of shots I could use, but nothing with which I feel particularly happy and I don’t like posting something that ‘will do’ – I want to feel pleased with it. On the other hand, if I don’t post something this week I’ll lose my momentum and probably end up not coming back to it at all and I don’t want that to happen either.
I guess we all suffer from creative block at times, and we just have to persevere, keep pressing the shutter, and wait for inspiration to come back – it always does, eventually. I’m planning a little trip to Canterbury (where I lived for many years) in the near future and I think that might just spark off some new Ideas. At the very least, it will give me some welcome new subject matter.
This is my favourite shot of the week, although there are aspects of it I’m not happy with. I think the empty area at the right makes it feel slightly unbalanced, and I think there was probably a better composition to be had. I’d also like to be using more colour in my shots, but the weather just hasn’t been conducive to this. This is actually a colour shot, even though it looks black and white – it was taken on one of the grey, overcast days we seem to be having so many of at the moment. But I do like the circular ripple, and the contrast it makes with the softer reflection of the tree foliage.
Another shot from Sconce and Devon park. Obviously, it’s a reflection, but I’ve turned it topsy-turvy to give it a slightly disconcerting, slightly surreal, feel. I never can resist a good reflection and I never get tired of them – I doubt I ever will.
This set me wondering why so many of us like water reflections so much. I did a bit of Googling, with the first result being an academic paper which came to the conclusion that people like reflections in water better than they do in glass, and they like reflective water better than they do clear water, and so it’s probably a good idea to incorporate ponds into garden design. That really didn’t help much.
Maybe I wasn’t using the best search terms, but I couldn’t find anything much on this topic at all. There was quite a lot on mirrors and their symbolism, and lots of stuff on the symbolism of water, but nothing on the psychology of why we’re drawn to reflections in water. Even John Suler’s online book Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche, which is my go-to place for this sort of thing, had very little to say on the subject. However, he did point out that reflections in water span the boundaries between what our brain recognises as real or unreal – perhaps there’s some kind of attraction in that liminal space: a dreaminess, an other-worldliness. It seems strange to me that so little is known about something so widespread.
Over the other side of Newark, there’s a park called the Sconce and Devon Park. Its main feature is the Queen’s Sconce, a large and impressive earthwork defence used during the Civil War, but off to the side there’s a riverside trail with natural meadows. The river is called the Devon – pronounced Dee-von – and in spite of the distant but obvious sound of traffic on the A46, it’s quite idyllic down there. I went there on one of the few warm and sunny days we’ve had this year, and this scene reminded me of Monet-style waterlilies, with its soft tones and mixture of sharp and soft.
I know, I missed a week – I wasn’t feeling well, then my cat got sick, then my internet connection disappeared. Eventually I surrendered and accepted that it just wasn’t meant to be. I’ve taken on far too much lately. My Airbnb room has been booked almost solidly, and I now have a long-term booking till September. The long-term thing is a relief, as I’ll only have to clean and change sheets once a week, and I’m not doing breakfast at all.
I have this weekend to get through before that, however, and it’s typical of what I’ve been doing over the last 2-3 months. I have someone staying at the moment, till Thursday, then he leaves at lunchtime and my next guests turn up at 3.00pm. They stay till Saturday morning, and another guest arrives Saturday lunchtime. Then she leaves on Sunday morning and my long-term guest is installed sometime on Sunday afternoon.
Sometimes I feel like I do nothing much other than change beds, wash sheets, iron, clean, and shop, but I’m also still working in the library and doing occasional photography work for the Town Hall Museum, as well as tending the rest of the house, looking after our large garden, keeping the rabbits and the cat alive, maintaining some sort of social life, and trying to keep up with blog posts. Oh yes, and squeezing in the occasional bit of photography. Frankly, I’m tired.
It’s not just the physical work that tires me, it’s the fact that, as an introvert, it’s very wearing for me to have strangers constantly in the house. I’m a very sociable introvert, and I do enjoy meeting the huge variety of people that visit, but sometimes I long to be able to do what I want to do without having to think about how it will impact on my guests. I long to be able to go down to the kitchen in the morning and make a cup of tea, without having to put on my hostess face and make conversation. I long to be able to take a shower when I feel like it, rather than working around my guests’ schedules. I long to be able to go to bed and leave the kitchen in a mess until the morning. Most of all, I long just to be in the house on my own for a while without any obligations.
Normally I make sure I have some gaps between bookings, and this has kept me sane over the last year or so of hosting, but an offer I couldn’t refuse – of an ongoing Sunday to Thursday let – has filled in all the gaps and given me no respite. My home no longer feels like my sanctuary, but more like a workplace with no off-duty hours. Unable ever to switch off completely, I have worn myself down and worn myself out, so I’ve made the decision now to rent the room on a more long-term basis and hopefully free myself up to concentrate on those things that really matter to me. The potential income is less, but it’s enough, and the lifting of pressure should more than make up for it.
Since this is all about what’s been happening on the domestic front, this week’s image continues on a domestic theme. There’s a beautiful silver birch tree just outside the kitchen window, and in the evenings the sun shines through it, projecting the movement, light and shadow of its leaves and branches onto the kitchen wall. It just so happened to work rather nicely with the green wall and the red tea cloth.
On a technical note, the combination of strongly contrasting light and shade and that dreaded red colour, make this a difficult choice of subject. There are two areas where the highlights have blown somewhat – one bright spot near the top left, and an area of the red cloth near the bottom. (Oddly enough, the other bright spot to the right of the towels hasn’t actually blown, although you might think it had.) Short of using HDR, there really isn’t any way round this – maintaining the detail in the highlights would leave the overall exposure too dark. However, I might have been able to claw back more of the detail in the blown areas if I could have worked with the Raw files – still haven’t got round to buying a new version of Elements!
This is the first image I’ve posted that’s been taken with my new Sony a6000 – I finally got it about two weeks ago, and have been getting used to it since then. I knew my old camera inside-out and could adjust settings without even looking or stopping to think, so it feels like going backwards a little. In fact, I deleted all the pictures I took on my first outing with it, as it was more a case of getting used to it than trying to do anything artistic. But I’m getting there, and the camera itself is brilliant.
It’s so much smaller and lighter than my previous one, while at the same time having far greater low-light capability, a lot more pixels to play with, and extra options I haven’t even investigated yet. As my old camera is so old that it’s worth nothing now, I’m going to keep the body and use it as a dedicated Lensbaby camera, meaning that I can simply grab it and know it’s all ready to go instead of the faff of changing lenses and altering settings.
One of my problems with the new camera at the moment is that the version of Elements I’ve got won’t recognise and process the RAW files. Normally this isn’t an issue and you just download a little bit of software to update it, but my version of Elements is so old that it’s not supported any more. This means that until I buy a newer version, which I’ll have to do soon, I can only work with the jpeg files. It’s surprising how frustrating this is, as I know I can get much better results working with RAW.
The viewfinder of the a6000 is beautifully bright and clear – that is, until you’re in a poppy field in very bright light and your photo sensitive glasses have significantly darkened (next time I change my glasses I’m going clear)…………..it was almost impossible to see anything – couldn’t see which settings I was changing or what they were doing, couldn’t see what was in the frame, couldn’t see the resulting image on the LCD screen, and felt as if I were shooting blind. The results were surprisingly acceptable, considering.
This was my desperate attempt at the weekend to find something for my tree post this week, as I’ve failed to produce anything new the last couple of weeks and have relied on my backlog from the New Forest. This field is a couple of miles up the road, and last year the poppies were so spectacular that cars were continually nipping into the nearby layby so that their occupants could stop to take a proper look. This year, not so much, but there are still plenty of poppies. This image is really more about the poppies than the tree, but it does need the tree – try blocking out the tree with your fingers and you’ll see it loses something. The two images below are more what I had in mind, as the tree is more important in the frame, and I wanted to get across the idea of the poppies being sheltered by it. However, the first has an unwelcome smudge of lens flare, and the second isn’t the best composed, so I opted for the less interesting but undoubtedly cheerful image at the top of the post.
Another image from the New Forest this week. I saw this little tree growing in a clearing, surrounded by the other bigger trees who almost looked like they were protecting and taking care of it. I liked the ferns that surrounded it, too – they appear to be leaning towards the tree ever so slightly, and the tree echoes their shapes. It looks to me like it’s dancing with its friends while the adults look tolerantly on.
To the eye, the small sapling stood out clearly and even looked spotlit by the sun. However, when I saw the picture onscreen the little tree merged too much into the background and didn’t clearly take centre stage, which was how I wanted to show it. What to do? First of all I softened the image slightly using the Orton technique which, applied subtly, made the greens richer and emphasised the contrast in dark and shade a bit more. Then I added a vignette to the corners to darken them and thus make the brightly lit tree stand out. I think it’s worked.
It’s been another very busy week. I had an Airbnb guest staying all week, then friends staying Friday night, then relatives arriving Saturday morning and staying over as well, so there’s been an awful lot of laundry, bed-making, cleaning, and food shopping going on, as well as serious attempts to conquer the garden before it becomes completely impossible to get up the path that runs through it. I also had a day at Patchings Art Fair where I managed to catch the last ten minutes of Valda Bailey giving a talk, and on Saturday we went to Southwell Folk Festival, of which more in a later post.
While all this was going on, I was trying to put together an entry for Seeing in Sixes – a competition/book project asking for submissions of six themed images, with the successful entrants having their images published in a book. The deadline for entries is the day this post appears, and as this is another very busy week I’m not sure if I’ll get it done in time. I also have a backlog of pictures and blog posts in the queue, some of which I’ve even started to write but have never got back to since then. These things seem to operate like the life equivalent of chilled butter – it’s impossible to spread them nice and evenly around and instead they form into awkward clumps where there’s either too much or too little. I guess that’s just the way it goes.
Cheating slightly again this week, as this photo was taken while I was away in the New Forest a couple of weeks ago. It’s been an unusually busy week, so I’ve had no chance to get out and about. Among other things, I had a photography job to do for the Newark Town Hall Museum which I was rather dreading – quite rightly, as it turned out. I had to photograph forty-five, mostly glass-fronted, prints and drawings, in a storeroom with a mixture of lighting sources and hardly any space to move or set anything up.
The problem, of course, was reflections in the glass, and it took an hour and a half just to find a set-up that minimised the reflections. I would have much preferred to scan them, as that works brilliantly, but most of them were too big to fit the scanner. In the end, the pictures were hung, one at a time, on a metal grid that divided one part of the room from another, my tripod was wedged into the space between that and a metal shelving unit behind, so tightly that the legs wouldn’t fully expand. I had to drape the metal shelving with a large navy-blue fleece throw to prevent reflections coming from it and there wasn’t room for me to get behind the camera so I had to use the LCD screen to shoot, peering into it from the side.
Every image is going to need serious straightening out in post-processing, but it was impossible to frame accurately in that situation so I just left a wide margin around the edges so that I have some leeway to crop and straighten I can honestly say I never want to have to work in those sorts of conditions again! However, I did get the shots and there’s only the tiniest bit of reflected light showing in one or two of them.
I felt rather fraught when I got home, and was cursing the whole reflection problem, but reflections are normally something I like very much and the kind found in the image above calms me down rather than winds me up – evening light on the little stream just down the road from our holiday barn.
This week’s post sneaked up on me – the bank holiday weekend was leading me to think it was Monday, not Tuesday, and that I had another day left, and I’ve also been trying to get a longer piece written for posting later in the week and had got a bit distracted by that.
So, last minute and not much to say about this one – just that this wonderful fern shadow on a fallen tree trunk caught my eye as we walked past. The bright sunlight was unpromisingly harsh for most shots, but worked beautifully for this one, just proving the point that, whatever the lighting, there’s always something it suits.